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More coal trains? Company says it’s exporting to Asia through a B.C. port

In this Jan. 16, 2013 photo, a coal train idles in front of the Decker Coal Mine near the Wyoming border in Decker, Mont. The mine once produced 10 million tons of coal a year “like clockwork,” but is now down to less than a third of that volume as contracts dry up amid slackening demand for the fuel.
In this Jan. 16, 2013 photo, a coal train idles in front of the Decker Coal Mine near the Wyoming border in Decker, Mont. The mine once produced 10 million tons of coal a year “like clockwork,” but is now down to less than a third of that volume as contracts dry up amid slackening demand for the fuel. AP

A company with coal mines in Wyoming and Montana said Thursday, Oct. 13 that it’s begun exporting fuel to Asia through a Canadian port –pulling out of a planned export terminal in Oregon and potentially sending more coal trains through Whatcom County.

According to the announcement from Lighthouse Resources, Inc., the company began shipping coal to power plants in South Korea this month through Westshore Terminals in Vancouver, B.C., a boost for a beleaguered industry that’s been in a prolonged tailspin.

The company declined to give shipment volumes.

With Lighthouse’s coal now going through British Columbia, company CEO Everett King said it was pulling out of its proposed coal terminal at Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon after that project stalled. The Utah-based company had been seeking approval for the Oregon project since 2011.

“Though we are disappointed for our Morrow Pacific Project supporters, we are very excited to commence delivery of products to our customers,” King said.

Lighthouse also is behind the proposal for Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview, Washington, on the Columbia River. That project received a favorable review in a preliminary environmental assessment last month by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Our ability to now ship to our customers in Asia allows us to achieve our short-term goals while we continue to focus on further long-term growth at Millennium,” King said.

Kathryn Stenger, spokeswoman for the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports, urged Washington officials to complete the review process for Millenium Bulk Terminals.

“Leaders from labor, business and trade have for years maintained that without investment, cargo bound for (Northwest) ports could easily shift to ports on the east coast, gulf coast or Canada. ... And today we see these fears become reality,” Stenger said.

More coal trains here?

Both coal terminals have faced strong opposition from environmentalists, American Indian tribes and some state officials concerned over coal dust pollution and potential damage to fisheries on the Columbia River.

Similar protests have been made in Whatcom County, where a different company’s proposal for a coal terminal at Cherry Point has been on hold since the Army Corps rejected a permit on May 9. SSA Marine, which has 51 percent ownership of the estimated $700 million project, has suspended work on an environmental review for the terminal.

Backers of the Cherry Point project most often cited the needed living-wage jobs; opponents decried the increased train traffic and pollution it would bring.

If the Lighthouse coal is transported by U.S. rail to B.C., train traffic likely would increase in Whatcom County.

Lighthouse Resources operates the Decker Mine in Montana and the Black Butte Mine in Wyoming. Combined, the mines employ more than 300 people and extracted roughly 6 million tons of fuel last year, according to data submitted to the U.S. Labor Department.

Black Butte is co-owned with Anadarko Petroleum.

Overseas exports of U.S. coal have been touted as a lifeline for an industry wracked by a wave of bankruptcies and declining domestic demand for the fuel. However, shipments to other nations peaked in 2012 and have since fallen sharply, as China and other countries have reduced their imports of the fuel, according to the Energy Information Administration.

An organizer for a group that’s fought against the Lighthouse proposals said she was not surprised the company was dropping its efforts at the Port of Morrow, after the Oregon Department of State Lands last year denied a permit for the project.

“I imagine Lighthouse doesn’t see a future for coal exports on the Columbia,” said Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky with Columbia Riverkeeper. “I see their attempt to export coal through Canada as a backdoor way to avoid the environmental standards that Oregon and Washington have put in place to review — and in Oregon’s case deny — coal exports.”

Port of Morrow General Manager Gary Neal said the shift by Lighthouse to Canada was disappointing. It will mean the loss of $200 million in potential capital investment in the port and 25 anticipated jobs, he said. The port will try to make up the difference by increasing shipments of grains, potash and other commodities.

The port will continue with its appeal of the state’s permit denial in order to preserve future options at the facility, he said. A hearing before an administrative law judge is scheduled for November.

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